While human relationships are important, they aren’t always healthy. A toxic relationship can cause you extreme emotional and mental stress and can precipitate a relapse.
An important part of maintaining sobriety is removing yourself from your old life, including leaving behind any toxic relationships you had while you were using. After making this change, you might feel like you don’t have enough human connections. When building your new relationships, follow these 10 tips to keep them healthy for everyone involved.
Communication is key in all relationships, whether they’re romantic, friendly, or professional. Communicating isn’t just about discussing your needs; it also involves being open and vulnerable. You need to have a genuine conversation with your friend or partner, rather than just talk at them.
Communication also means letting them know when they do something that makes you feel uncomfortable. Instead of passive aggressively sighing, or giving them the silent treatment, which are both toxic behaviors, tell them directly what has upset you in a calm voice. If you feel unable to do so because you fear their reaction, your relationship is probably toxic.
However, this goes both ways. You need to ensure that your reactions to your partner saying they are upset with your actions are calm and not aggressive. When both parties trust that the other will listen to their complaints calmly and without judgment, then they can communicate healthily.
A core aspect of a healthy relationship is respect. While this may seem simple, some users in active addiction forget this important principle during their drug or alcohol abuse. Learning to give and receive respect again is not always an easy task, and it can take time to rebuild this skill.
While you may disagree with a friend’s beliefs, you should still communicate respectfully. Raising your voice during a disagreement could cause your friend to feel uncomfortable while interrupting them can make them feel like their opinion doesn’t matter.
You should also respect any boundaries your friends or partners have set. If your friend has said they don’t like hugs, don’t forcefully pull them in for a bear hug. Some people prefer not to use certain language or go by a particular nickname. Treat your friends as you would like to be treated and don’t make them uncomfortable by disrespecting their wishes.
Another aspect of respect in relationships is respecting their request for alone time. When you are rebuilding a damaged relationship, these requests for solitude may be necessary as your loved one learns to trust you again. If your friend or partner has requested that you give them some space, don’t call or text them repeatedly.
3. Practice Active Listening
In today’s busy world, active listening can be challenging. We constantly encounter distractions from our cell phones with news and chat notifications. Many people multitask, scrolling Instagram while watching Netflix or answering messages during dinner.
When you multitask while your friend or partner is speaking, they will feel unheard, and you may miss important facts. Instead, put your phone on silent, and practice active listening. Only give your opinion if they ask for it. Many people often wish to express their feelings rather than receive advice.
Active listening also means not interrupting. Use non-verbal cues to show your friend you’re taking in everything they’re saying.
4. Set and Maintain Boundaries
Boundaries are essential in all relationships, whether professional, romantic, familiar, or social. You don’t need to declare all your boundaries upfront, but you should know what you need and cannot have in a relationship.
For many recovering addicts, an important boundary is not being around active users. You can ask your friends not to drink around you or request that you schedule outings that focus on other activities, like hiking or board games. The chance of relapse is always there and sticking to your boundaries can help reduce it.
If you struggle to determine what boundaries are healthy for you, speak with a therapist to formulate a list. They can also help you develop healthy ways to communicate your boundaries and how to remove yourself from a relationship if they are breached.
5. Take Time to Yourself
Healthy relationships are easier to maintain when you are at peace with yourself. While it’s good to stay in touch, don’t overextend yourself helping your friends, leaving no time for self-care. Give yourself permission to relax, whether that’s playing video games, taking your dog to the park, or having a long soak in the bath.
6. Schedule One-on-One Time
It’s hard to connect with people in a large group. While having a board game night is more fun with the entire gang, schedule individual meet-ups. Catch up for a coffee, or try out a hip new restaurant together. Ask your friends questions, and follow-up later.
For example, if they applied for a promotion at work, send them a text to ask how it went. Your friends will appreciate that you heard them and will return the favor.
7. Stay in Touch
While it’s hard to keep up with texting and messaging when you struggle with mental health issues or are busy with work, staying in touch is essential for building healthy relationships. If you feel overwhelmed, try to let your friends know you need some space.
Although you don’t need to answer messages immediately, try to get back to your friends every few days. If you don’t answer for several weeks, your relationships may suffer, and your friends might not respond quickly when you need support. As an addict, long periods of silence may make your friends conclude that you are using again, even if you are not, and this can cause worry and strain on your relationships.
8. Give Support
If a friend or your partner experiences a tragedy or has received bad news, reach out to give them support. Let them know that you are there to listen, offer advice, or just bring over some food.
Ask your friend what they need to feel better. Some may just want to rant about the situation, while others may ask for advice. By asking how you can support them, you can ensure you don’t cross any boundaries and make the situation worse.
9. Ask Questions
A great way to learn more about your friends is by asking questions. Go further than a simple, “How are you?” and ask about their hobbies or their work. Asking questions means you’ll speak about yourself less and helps you create a more solid, trusting bond.
10. Initiate Contact
Some people worry that contacting their friends may disturb them. However, most people love receiving messages from their friends and don’t want to be the only one responsible for initiating contact in their relationships.
If you feel anxious that you contact your friends too much, check in with them and ask.
Healthy Relationships Can Enrich Your Life
Having healthy relationships can make you more confident and improve your mental health. By putting in the time and effort to create and maintain healthy relationships, you can decrease your risk of relapse and enrich your life.
Native of Moldova, Dr. Zhitar is Board Certified in Addiction Medicine as well as Internal Medicine and completed his training at UPMC Shadyside, Pittsburgh, PA in 2000.